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House authorizers went too far in drafting language that would move the National Nuclear Security Administration’s two biggest projects, the Uranium Processing Facility and the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility, to the Pentagon, according to a senior Department of Defense official. Speaking at a Capitol Hill Club breakfast event this week, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters Steve Henry said the Pentagon espoused the virtues of treating the facilities as military construction projects, but did not favor completely absorbing the projects. Language in the House-passed version of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Authorization Act would move management of the project to the Pentagon while authorizing forward-funding for the projects starting in FY2014. “We thought it would be good for the Department of Energy, NNSA to also have those authorities,” Henry, who is leaving the Pentagon this week to head up global security work for Nevada National Security Site contractor National Security Technologies, LLC, told NW&M Monitor after his speech. “We did not mean we would do that.”

The Pentagon has taken a keen interest in efforts to modernize the nation’s weapons complex, and Henry said DoD had become concerned with massive cost and schedule overruns for UPF and CMRR-NF, the linchpins of the modernization effort. “Huge projects always have their own problems, and we said, based upon the funding, we didn’t see that they were funded quite properly the way DoD does it,” Henry said during a question and answer session after his speech. “And we would have liked to have seen it reduced in time to build, which helps reduce cost, but that means your funding has to go up. And we could not see how DOE/NNSA could fund both projects within their budget that had been appropriated.” Because of the funding problems, Henry said DoD it suggested it couldn’t build both facilities at the same time, and it prioritized UPF because of the deteriorating condition of existing uranium facilities at Y-12. But he noted that treating the projects as military construction projects would have significant benefits. The approach “allows you to up-front fund. It allows you to understand how much money you’re going to have in the out years,” Henry said. But he later added that DoD was not well-suited to take over management of the projects. “From my gut feeling I’d have to say that it’s one thing for NNSA to have a contractor to say what they want for their specifications, and to monitor how it’s built. But it’s completely different to have DoD do it and saying here it is, and handing them the key to that,” Henry said. “How do we make sure it still meets all the safety bases and the operational issues. Although we work closely with them, we haven’t worked that closely on building kinds of facilities and developing the integration to be able to support something like that.”

Debate Over Provision in House

The key component of House language that would shift management of UPF and CMRR-NF to DoD is language that authorizes a large chunk of money for both projects. In an effort to create stability for the projects and mirror the upfront funding approach used by many military construction projects, the legislation authorizes $3.5 billion for CMRR-NF and $4.2 billion for UPF starting in FY2014. As military construction projects, the facilities would also no longer fall under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittees or the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board during construction, though the DNFSB would regain oversight of the facilities once they’re up and running and turned over to the NNSA. Though the projects would be under the purview of the Pentagon, the NNSA and DOE would still be involved in refining the facilities’ requirements and to provide expertise, according to the amendment. The bill says that CMRR-NF should be operational by 2024. “The NNSA had difficulty and struggled with their ability to deliver this facility and … we’re certain by coordinating this work with the Department of Defense we’ll be able to accomplish the construction of this facility, the delivery of it, and having it placed it on line,” Turner said.

At a markup of the FY2013 Defense Authorization bill, the language was opposed primarily by House Democrats, who suggested the management shift could further delay the projects. “I think that we should be improving the NNSA, not taking time and money to move the responsibility from one organization to another organization who may not be better equipped, and certainly doesn’t have the expertise, to do this nature of facility,” said Sanchez, who also questioned whether it was appropriate to give control of the projects to the Department of Defense. “We should have concerns that the DoD has even more of a hand on our nuclear facilities,” Sanchez said. Senate authorizers did not include similar language in their version of authorization bill. —Todd Jacobson

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